Earlier this year, Seattle police claimed to have broken up a vicious sex-trafficking ring. The media breathlessly reported that girls from Korea were being trafficked into this country to become sex slaves and that Sigurds Zitars was the ring-leader of this sexual slavery ring.
It was garbage. It turned out just to be ordinary prostitution. Whatever one thinks about the morality and legality of prostitution, it’s not the same as sex slavery. None of the girls were being held against their will. Almost everyone involved pleaded out to charges of promoting prostitution or patronizing a prostitute.
Except Zitars. Unable to deal with being branded a sex slaver, he killed himself.
I bring this up because right now there is a furor over the so-called Pizzagate, a wild allegation that the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in DC is a haven for child sex trafficking. The evidence for this accusation is … basically nothing. You can read the link to Vox to see how this built up and it’s basically made out of whole cloth. It’s crazy.
But this craziness became all too real this weekend when a gunman showed up at the pizzeria to enact justice. Fortunately, he was able to be talked down and realized he’d been duped.
The press has been going crazy about this, talking about “fake news” (although this came from conspiracy sites, not fake news sites). But there’s another villain here: our national hysteria over sex trafficking.
Our media constantly uncritically repeat all kinds of myths and lies about sex trafficking: they claim there are 300,000 child sex slaves in this country (false), that the average prostitute gets into the business at age 13 (false), that hordes of sex slaves are trafficking into town for the Super Bowl (false). Many of these lies appear on websites run by our own governments. Breathless stories about sex traffickers trolling malls and hardware stores in search of victims are uncritically repeated without so much as a thought.
More to the point, ordinary prostitution is conflated with sex trafficking constantly. The federal government runs Operation Cross Country stings that mainly arrest consenting adults, for example. It’s gotten so absurd, that independent escorts have been prosecuted for trafficking themselves.
Unlike the Pizzagate business, however, these myths are pushed by mainstream politicians and the mainstream media. They demonize people like Zitars without knowing all (or any) of the facts. These myths serve to support a “War on Sex Trafficking” that, in many ways, is replacing the “War on Drugs” as a way to seize money and put people in prison. None of this is ever questioned. None of this ever put to the test. The media has invested more resources in debunking one crazy 4Chan theory than an entire massive law enforcement structure designed to crush people voluntarily exchanging money for sex.
As my friend Maggie McNeill said, here is the real story: our national hysteria over sex trafficking finally hurt a friend of the powerful. This war is damaging the lives of thousands of consenting adults every day. But they don’t matter because they’re not politically connected. The owner of this pizzeria is a friend and fund-raiser for Clinton. So suddenly, miraculously, it’s a national crisis.
So yeah, let’s talk about conspiracy theorists and the people who pass on their crazy conspiracy theories. Let’s talk about Alex Jones and 4Chan and all that. Let’s acknowledge that this pizzagate business if a fabrication that is making life hell for an innocent person. But let’s also talk about the trafficking hysteria that fed into this and that results in guns being pointed in the faces of consenting adults every day.
Because until we talk about that, this Comet Ping Pong business is just another example of how crushing people’s freedom is fine … until it happens to the elites or their friends.